AP NEWS

Builder to put replace ’60s apartments with mixed-use complex in changing neighborhood

January 27, 2019

A North Carolina-based developer is breaking ground on a real estate project near Highland Village that will replace a three-story apartment complex built in the 1960s with a luxury development nearly three times the size.

The project represents an ongoing shift in Houston’s urban core toward building bigger and taller, a result of skyrocketing land prices in the most desirable neighborhoods.

The starkest example in this Inner Loop-area is a 40-story apartment tower at 2929 Weslayan at West Alabama, the city’s tallest residential building outside downtown. Other new buildings nearby have been more moderate in scale, ranging from six to eight stories.

The new project — Novel River Oaks — will rise eight stories on the site of the former Georgian apartments near the northeast corner of Westheimer and Willowick. The now-demolished Georgian was a 114-unit complex for residents of at least 55 years in age.

As older apartment buildings inside the 610 Loop are increasingly being town down to make way for new ones, the Georgian was a rare option for those close to retirement in the upscale area where rents on newer buildings run into the thousands.

The building showed its age, but it meant a lot to some of the residents who had lived there a long time, said Justin Renshaw, president of the homeowners association for Royden Oaks, the adjacent neighborhood, an affluent community of about 200 homes.

“It was affordable,” said Renshaw, 46, who grew up in the neighborhood and delivered newspapers to the residents at the Georgian as a boy.

An executive with the developer, Charlotte, N.C.-based Crescent Communities, said the company tried to be sensitive to the renters, many of whom had been there for years. The tenants were given six months notice that they had to relocate and Crescent hired a moving coordinator, provided packing materials and offered financial assistance.

The new complex at at 2511 Willowick Road will focuses on walkability and greenspace. It will pay homage to the site’s legacy by incorporating some of the architectural elements of the old property and keeping most of the old live oaks along Wickersham, the residential street that runs along one side of the property, said Michael Blackwell, Dallas-based managing director for Crescent Communities.

The project is expected to have 330 apartments, including a row of two-story brownstone-style units along Wickersham. The developer will look for shops and restaurants to lease 14,000 square feet of commercial space along Westheimer.

Amid the trend to replace older apartment complexes with larger buildings, residents in some communities have spoken out and organized efforts to help maintain the character of their neighborhoods. Without zoning, Houston residents have fewer ways to control what is built next to them.

Renshaw said Crescent has been responsive to the neighborhood’s questions and willing to discuss concerns about the project and its scale. The developer’s initial design included a curb cut on Wickersham, but removed it after talking to the neighbors.

Blackwell said a high-rise was never in the works for the site, but the temptation to build taller was there.

“We looked at a number of options, but where we started and where we always came back to was not to exploit an extraordinary site,” Blackwell said.

Crescent acquired the property in 2015, but plans to build on it were delayed amid economic uncertainty from falling oil prices. Now the project is expected to open in the second half of 2020.

Houston architect Scott Zielger, who is overseeing the design of Novel, is a 29-year resident of Royden Oaks. He likened the scale of the property to the Garden District in Paris.

nancy.sarnoff@chron.com

twitter.com/nsarnoff

AP RADIO
Update hourly